Paul Wheeler: London should learn from Paris about reducing traffic

Paul Wheeler: London should learn from Paris about reducing traffic

The observation made of France by 18th Century pundit Jacques Mallet du Pan that “Like Saturn, the revolution devours its children” could also be applied to the ill-fated Streatham Wells Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN). Rushed and ill-considered, it led to the effective collapse of the local bus service and earlier this month was suspended by Lambeth Council.

It could be a turning point in the wider London debate about the validity and purpose of LTNs. Proposals for a further scheme in Southwark have been scrapped and Greenwich has rowed back from introducing a 24-hour one in East and West Greenwich, opting instead for a peak hour only restriction with a large number of exemptions.

If the LTN revolution is waning, what can London learn when it comes to reducing traffic on our roads, especially from our near neighbour Paris, capital of the country whose turmoil dismayed Mallet du Pan?

There, instead of a series of uncoordinated and haphazard initiatives by 32 local authorities, a programme for overall traffic reduction that doesn’t risk simply displacing it from a limited number of residential roads is directed and planned by the city’s Mayor – the redoubtable socialist Anne Hidalgo, who has been in office now for nearly a decade.

Starting this year, Paris will effectively ban through-traffic from a central city zone covering more than five square miles straddling the River Seine. Officials estimate that over half of all journeys made in this area are from one side to the other and out again. When implemented, Hidalgo’s measure could remove up to 250,000 motor vehicles a day from central Paris yet still allow local travel by residents, disabled people and visitors.

Paris is also far more strategic than London when it comes to targeting the movement of certain groups of vehicles, in particular HGVs. Most of those weighing 7.5 tonnes or more are banned from the entire French road network for part of each weekend. In addition, they cannot enter Paris on Mondays between 6am and 10am or leave it later than 4pm on Fridays, providing respite for residents living on main roads and welcome relief for cyclists, with no discernible impact on the distribution of freight.

The contrast with London could not be greater. There is no city-wide lorry ban for any period despite overwhelming evidence about their adverse impact on congestion and the safety of cyclists. The existing London Lorry Control Scheme, dating from the 1980s and applying only to vehicles weighing over 18 tonnes, is almost entirely permissive and weighted in favour of large freight operators.

What is particularly significant about Paris is that it focuses as much on providing public transport alternatives to motor traffic as on its prohibition. New north and south extensions of Métro Line 14 will open in time for the Olympics as part of the wider Grand Paris Express project, providing better connections between the more distant (and usually poorer) suburbs and the centre.

The cost of using public transport in Paris is another reflection of the city’s desire to encourage its use. The Métro is exempt from the city’s six fare zones, meaning all single tickets are the same price whatever the journey, unlike the equivalent for all rail transport within Greater London. A monthly pass for the entire Paris Métro network costs £73.70 (86.40 Euros) compared to £299.60 for a Zones 1 to 6 Travelcard in London, penalising outer Londoners.

Does it have to be this bad? It is disappointing that Sadiq Khan and TfL have said they are not working on a comprehensive road user charging scheme for London, which would put the capital ahead of its French counterpart. If Khan is re-elected and a Labour national government follows, they should find the political courage to at least open the debate about it. Such a scheme could have huge benefits for London and create an opportunity to transform public transport too.

Paul Wheeler writes on local politics at @paulw56. Support  OnLondon and its writers for just £5 a month of £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE

Categories: Comment


  1. Andrew Curry says:

    You write, of Paris: “a programme for overall traffic reduction that doesn’t risk simply displacing it from a limited number of residential roads”. But one of the best established principles in traffic management is that when you restrict cars in ways that slow it down, 25-30% is not displaced: it literally disappears.

    1. Andrew there is no reliable evidence which supports this view and it also takes no account of adverse impact on bus services as with ill fated Streatham LTN. Time for more strategic approach as in Paris.

  2. Philip Arthurton Virgo says:

    Excellent post which exposes the true poverty of ambition of Mayor Khan’t. That said, his predecessor was not much much better. Nor are his opponents. There is currently no good reason for Londoners to bother to vote.

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